I didn’t believe Libby was serious when she said it. I remember thinking, “I heard that wrong.” When I asked her to repeat the sentence, it was identical. She replied, “Our neighbours are taking us to VCAT.”
I did not see that one coming. Talking about the surprise reminded us of an old Toyota advertisement. It put a funny spin on situations that make you say, “Bugger!”
Then again, the drainage issue was a surprise too. A gripping saga requires the occasional plot twist to keep the reader interested. Well, readers, here’s a cliff hanger for you.
What is VCAT?
VCAT stands for Victorian Civil and Administration Tribunal.
Essentially VCAT is a State government body that rules on civil disputes. In our case, the neighbours are apparently unhappy with the Council’s response to the concerns they raised about our development. There is something in the 13 page response they disagree with. Hence, they are within their rights to escalate the matter. The tribunal is independent of anyone involved in the Planning Permit process. That means they impartially apply the relevant municipal planning scheme regulations to resolve the issue.
The extra hurdle for our development came to light when the Maroondah Planner went to process our Permit application. After Council issues a decision to grant the permit, anyone who originally objected is given 21 days to review the response. Our neighbours deciding to appeal the Council’s decision blocked further work on the permit.
What happens at VCAT?
The tribunal has a staged approach to resolving issues.
Initially, they bring the parties together at a mediation or compulsory meeting. It’s just us, our neighbours and a mediator. We’d have to ask permission to bring anyone else along to represent our case. The aim is to calmly talk about the issues and reach a settlement.
If mediation fails, the process moves to a full hearing. That sounds very formal.
Responding to the notification.
Well, there’s no sense sitting around and waiting to see how this plays out.
Libby reached out to anyone who knew anything about how to respond to this situation. A couple of phone calls stand out.
Anne had spoken highly of a Town Planner who represented the opposing side in a tribunal case she was involved in. He lost but went down fighting so she was impressed with his skill, knowledge and preparation. We now have a Town Planner ready to review documentation as soon as it arrives. We feel it’s important to get a specialist involved right from the start.
Another call was straight to the source. If the people running the tribunal don’t know how to help, who would? The lady was very helpful, particularly when Libby explained that we had no idea why the objection was lodged. VCAT is currently processing the paperwork and will then send us formal notification. We are also exploring options they suggested for how to get an early resolution.
Everything we learn about the objection is being shared with our contacts in Council. The notice of a decision to grant a permit means the Council’s Planning Department supports us. The decision also has the support of the Engineering Department as they are on standby to start work on their drainage project.
Our lawyer is monitoring progress, ready to step in if required.
What else is happening?
We continue to do whatever we can while information trickles in. It might be a couple of weeks before we get everything.
Not knowing the timing of a decision affects our schedule but not the basic plan. The objective is to dismantle this house in parallel with preparing a Building Permit. Ground works on the units start as soon as the paperwork is finalised. We do whatever makes sense within an air of uncertainty. For example, the site soil tests are done. I noticed a patch of soil in the lawn and realised the lads had visited to take a few samples.
We march on with a positive outlook. You can’t keep a good dog down.